Last year thousands of holidaymakers were caught out by clever criminals that managed to sell them holidays – or parts of a holiday – that simply didn’t exist.
The average amount lost by unlucky travellers was £1,380, figures from Action Fraud revealed, with more than £7million taken overall.
Travel trade organisation Abta’s chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The cost to victims is not just financial. This crime causes very real emotional distress.
“Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to target destinations and times of year when demand is high and availability limited, as they know people will be looking for good deals.
“As victims often find out just before they travel or even in resort that they have been defrauded, it can then be very difficult and expensive to obtain a legitimate replacement booking compounding the financial costs and emotional distress suffered by victims.”
The scams they’re pulling
One case in four involved accommodation, with payments to stay in upmarket villas that are either fictitious or are being offered without the owner’s knowledge.
Spain and France are among the destinations most commonly affected by this issue.
More than half (53%) of the crimes related to airline tickets- with scammers particularly targeting people visiting family and friends in Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, said: “The sad reality is that as scammers get more sophisticated, many people are still falling victim, with increasing numbers of holidaymakers being left severely out of pocket.”
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “There is a startling emotional impact of falling victim to holiday fraud bringing the feeling of embarrassment and disappointment to those we love, so we want to ensure that people feel better able to protect themselves.”
Staying safe from the scammers
It’s important to point out how easy it is to be drawn in.
We’ve spoken to victims in their 20s and 30s who work in the media that still got caught out by well-executed villa scams, for example.
To try and keep you safe, Which? has the following tips:
If the price for your flight or holiday is considerably cheaper than the average cost elsewhere, you should be suspicious. Charging significantly less is often a sign that there may be a scammer behind the offer.
Looking out for official logos is a good way to check the authenticity of holiday booking, travel agent and tour operators.
Popular holiday booking websites such as Airbnb and Holiday Lettings are a great place to find accommodation at a reasonable price, but watch out for fake listings – scammers have figured out that they can use the popularity of these sites to dupe people and make some quick cash.
If a bank transfer is your only option for payment, this should set alarm bells ringing. You should be especially cautious if you’re asked to pay directly into a private individual’s bank account. Paying by direct bank transfer means your money will be very difficult to trace should something go wrong and is not refundable.
Do a thorough search to check the company’s credentials. If a company is defrauding people, there’s a good chance you will find out pretty quickly by reading several reviews.
Getting something for free is incredibly rare and so if you’re being offered a free holiday, you should be on your guard. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Be careful of secondary ticketing sites. Scammers know which events are popular and which have limited tickets, so will try and take advantage of people willing to pay high prices.